Could the Suicide Squad be saved by dynamic advertising principles?

Instead of letting bad reviews and irate fanboys devalue a franchise, perhaps DC could have used public feedback to cut the film everybody wanted to see, suggests Julian Schreiber.

Let me confess something. I am a comic book nerd. And I knew all about the Suicide Squad, say, about 20 years before it came out as a movie.

I knew the characters, the basic story line, that you don’t mess with Amanda Waller unless you want to end up dead and buried in an unmarked grave.

Julian-Schreiber-ECD - Cummins and PartnersAnd when I saw the first trailer of the film my immediate reaction was unreservedly “Hell Yeah!” It had everything: charismatic actors, check; cool special effects, check. Witty one-liners, check; kick-arse soundtrack, check (Ballroom Blitz…I mean how good is Ballroom Blitz?) I was intrigued and excited.

And then trailer number two came out. More character depth, hints of an interesting plotline, more witty one-liners. The hype was beginning to build and so was the chatter amongst the non-comic book nerds or, as I like to call them, my cooler co-workers around the agency.

I felt like I was on the inside track to something great. The excitement kept building. It had clever five-second snippets. Behind the scenes interviews. I saw it on Facebook. It was served up to me on Youtube. People now were really buzzing about it. “When’s it coming out?” they murmured with excitement. “It looks like it’s really going to be good” they said sipping morning coffees.

The advertising for this movie had driven the expectation for this film through the roof, so not just the comic book heads like me were looking forward to it. Everyone was looking forward to it.

And then. The. Movie. Came. Out.

Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a teeny tiny 26%. It was described by the Wall Street Journal like this ‘In a word, “Suicide Squad” is trash. In two words, it’s ugly trash. Maybe no more words should be wasted on a movie that is, after all, only a movie, not a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.”

Ouch. According to Box office Mojo it opened with a record-breaking weekend, raking in $64 million in its first weekend but then, just one weekend later, it managed to bring in just $13.35 million in its second Friday.

And then the backlash began.

Everywhere I walked I heard someone saying “I saw Suicide Squad. It sucked”. I was in a queue waiting for a plane to Melbourne and a woman in front of me (in a business suit – so I would’ve totally not picked her to be one to see it) growled about how incredibly “cutty” it was. I listened as a guy in a café groaned that it barely made sense from a plot point of view.

And now here’s my second confession. I haven’t seen the Suicide Squad. And to be honest, I’m not going to anymore. And it gets worse, the people around me didn’t just begin to slag off the Suicide Squad, they began to slag off everything from the makers of the Suicide Squad – DC, were putting out next.Justice-League-Movie-Costumes-Official

That’s the new Justice League movie, Wonder Woman, and anything else coming up. Which is hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. They said, “Well, now, they’ve firmly cemented their reputation for making bad movies”.

So what can we take away from all this?

Firstly there’s the timeless saying that ‘nothing kills a bad product like good advertising’. So some could say it was a huge mistake to promote something so hard – as the greater the exposure, the bigger the downfall when people realise the product (the film, in this case) is terrible.

And my reaction of not going to see the film is a testament to that. It has poisoned the well for me. Furthermore, people are now planning to actively not buy new products (tickets to future films, in this case) based on there being such a disconnect between the marketing and the reality here.

It’s like having one bad chocolate bar after being told it’s absolutely amazing and then deciding never to buy that brand’s range ever again. It’s a powerful combination of breaking faith and bad product working together to really hurt.

But there’s another way to look at it. Others would argue that knowing the product was shockingly terrible, in order to recover its investment, it made sense for DC to go super-hard with promotion, so it could recover as much money as possible in the first sales weekend, knowing the film would tank soon after.

Take the money and run, so to speak. People are natural born consumers. No well could remain poisoned forever.

I wonder however, if there was a different way to go? A different path for this now much-maligned film that no one tried and may only now be possible due to the highly digital environment we now live in.

Imagine a world where the film launches were completely iterative. Where the Suicide Squad was released, hated and then instead of completely tanking, another version of the Suicide Squad was then quickly released that accounted for the reaction. Suicide Squad 2.0!

If it was too “cutty”, then release a version that’s less “cutty”. If the story seemed to lack action, add action. If was seen as lacking soul, add more character development. Now I get you’d have to have all these options shot and ready to go but, let’s face it, how many extra scenes, bits and pieces end up on the cutting room floor anyway? Heard of a Director’s Cut anyone?  It would merely be working with all the pieces you created.

This could even work at the iTunes release of the film after the initial launch.

Having worked on digital creative for some time now, the idea of iterative work has become incredibly commonplace. The word ‘optimising’ is one I hear pretty much every day. It stems from an awareness of the environment the content is going to appear in.

On Facebook, if people are going to watch a piece of content created for somewhere else, such as TV, with the sound turned off, figure out a way to optimise the creative so it works well with the sound off.

And why not bring that thinking to other content creation, like films? Obviously there is huge expense potentially attached to what I’m describing, but on the other hand, imagine all the potential new sales that could come from the releases of the new versions… It may not be possible yet, but it could be possible one day.

I’m 110% sure there’s a great version of the Suicide Squad somewhere. They just need to decide one day to (re)create it.

Julian Schreiber is the executive creative director at Cummins & Partners Sydney


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